I witnessed a rare natural phenomenon this week. During the course of an office day out, for which I was dressed in my summer wardrobe, we experienced torrential rain. If you are reading this in England, or even Israel, your answer is likely to be a very Jewish shrugged "so what"?! Rain in March? Nu - what's the big deal?!!
The answer, as so often is the case lies in 3 factors; Location, Location and Location! The Dead Sea, a mere 30 minute drive from Jerusalem, is most famous for being the lowest point on earth and is located in the Syria-Africa rift - the natural fault that was responsible for the earthquake that we experienced a few weeks back. It is however, also a part of the Judean Desert. The Judean Desert is unusual in that it is not part of the band of deserts that encircle the globe. Rather it is a rain shadow desert. In simple terms this means that clouds hit Israel's coast and as they proceed to climb uphill and cool, dump their rain on Jerusalem and its hills. By the time the clouds get over the top of Jerusalem, they are empty, thus the area to Jerusalem's west gets only 5 or 6 days rain per year. I knew there was a point to getting a degree in geography!
When rain comes down on the Desert, the result is impressive. Precipitation finds its way into a vast array of dry rivers, gulleys and streams. The various trickles quickly become a torrent as they bump into one another so that by the time they reach the road bordering the Dead Sea they are extremely powerful and carrying all kinds of debris with them. Chocolate coloured water rushes of the cliffs and floods across the road, and into the choppy sea, discolouring the water around at the shoreline. Stretches of the way are rendered impassable. The power of the water is impressive and evidence of the destruction wreaked in previous floods is strewn across the flood plain. Fortunately our timing was such that we were able to negotiate the roads - vehicles arriving only 1/2 an hour later would have almost certainly had to wait until the rain stopped and the water subsided.
Rain is always appreciated in Israel. The nature of our tiny, parched country means that every drop is a blessing which can be easily quantified as we watch the Kinneret's level rise throughout the winter. To witness rain on the desert is a true marvel however, a reminder of the way in which water has been and continues to be responsible for shaping the landscape that we live in.
It is perhaps natural that we are somewhat complacent about the way in which we manipulate the environment. No obstacle is so huge that it can't be bridged over, tunneled under or blasted through. Flight is taken for granted and even space travel is no longer the stuff of fantasy. Even at the peak of our achievement in terms of technology however, events such as earthquakes and flashfloods put us firmly in our places, serving as a reminder that the power of the natural universe often far surpasses what we are able to achieve.